God bless you and greetings in the name of Jesus Christ who showed his knowledge of God’s Word at an early age (Luke 2:46-47).
Most of us are aware that if Scripture does not interpret itself in the verse or in the context, then the interpretation is found in its previous uses. However, when we investigate previous uses of a word, we should pay particular attention to it first occurrence and passages of scripture where it occurs frequently in clusters. The first use of a word, expression, or idea may hold the key to its subsequent meaning. It also may be a guide to ascertaining the essential truths connected with it. Once we see how its first use establishes a pattern, it is usually complete enough to carry through in all other occurrences in the Bible. If God ever changes how it is used, He always explains it.
The first use of “grace” is in Genesis 6:8, “But Noah found grace [chen] in the eyes of the LORD.” The first use of “believed” is in Genesis 15:6, “And he [Abraham] believed [aman] in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” When looking for first occurrence of words in the Old Testament, remember to use the Hebrew cannon, not our English versions. [The Hebrew Cannon is the first appendix in Bullinger’s Companion Bible. You can find it online at: https://levendwater.org/companion/append1.html] The first use of love in the church epistles is in Romans 5:5, “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” Exodus 2:17 has the first use of “stand” and “save.” Then throughout the rest of scripture these terms are intertwined.
In a similar fashion the first and last words spoken by people may also be very revealing. The first recorded words of Jesus were, “How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business.” No words from Jesus’ mouth were recorded in his first 12 years. Nothing he said was significant enough to make it into holy writ, until he said, “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” What did his parents think he’d be doing. Didn’t they remember the words of the shepherds, the gifts of the magi, and the prophecies of Simeon and Anna? Jesus last words before relinquishing his life to God were “It is finished.” Jesus completed His Father’s business and paid the price for the redemption of mankind.
Jesus first words after receiving the spirit and beginning his ministry were “It is written,” and the first recorded words after the opening of his public ministry were, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me. . . .” The last recorded words he spoke before ascending to the right hand of God were, “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
The Bible may be studied canonically in the order in which the books appear in the canon. Or they may be studied chronologically in the order they were written and the events actually occurred. The Progressive Mention Principle is where God makes the revelation of any given truth increasingly clear as the Word proceeds to its consummation. Regarding the order in which Paul’s epistles were written the best I can figure out is: I & II Thessalonians, Galatians, I & II Corinthians, Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, Philemon, Hebrews, I Timothy, Titus, and II Timothy. We can see the progression of the revelation in writing regarding the great mystery of godliness as we follow the writings chronologically. There’s nothing about it in Thessalonians. I Corinthians tells us it was hidden and unknown previously. Romans echoes Corinthians adding that is now revealed without specifically saying what it is. Ephesians mentions what he wrote before briefly in I Corinthians and Romans, and then defines it in Ephesians 3:6. Colossians 1:27 tells of the riches of the mystery in 1:27. I Timothy tells us how leaders should handle it (3:9), and II Timothy concludes stating how great it is and then describes six specific major characteristics.
Next Wednesday we’ll look at the importance of a passage when a word clusters there.